*****GIANT BORG CUBE-SIZED SPOILERS!!*****
The 10th and final episode of Star Trek: Picard’s first season, “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2” (Written by Michael Chabon and directed by Akiva Goldsman) has been released via CBS-All Access (AmazonPrime overseas), and it wraps up the freshman season’s arc in a satisfying, very Star Trek-way. The finale is a fascinating rumination on life, death and the nature of consciousness (genuine sci-fi stuff) as well as some action/adventure pew-pew goodies, too. It’s a fully-loaded bag, and I’ll do my best to unpack it, beginning with the story…
“Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2.”
The story begins with the sight of the hulking Borg cube, crashed in water on the surface of Coppelius. Ex-Borg drones work to restore the cube as the nefarious Romulan Narek (Harry Treadaway) clandestinely enters unnoticed. Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) and Elnor (Evan Evagora) are sitting down, having a chat. A depressed, defeated Seven wonders why she can’t simply muster the courage to kill herself. Elnor states simply, “Because I’d miss you.” Seeing her lost maternal relationship with ex-Borg Icheb perhaps surviving in young Elnor gives Seven courage.
Meanwhile, Narek’s twisted sister Narissa (Peyton List) sneaks up on him, and the two quasi-incestuous siblings embrace. She asks him if he’s seen the Synth’s village, and of course, she also inquires if he’s screwed any of them. “Not yet…” he replies. He tells Narissa of the Synth’s plans of conquest. Narek asks her for a supply of grenades for an assault on the Synth’s fleet of “giant space orchids” which could mean trouble for their approaching fleet. She wants to join her brother, but he insists she remain behind to guard the cube. As Narek leaves, he is unaware that he has a shadow… in the shape of a pursuing Elnor.
An imprisoned Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) notices a synthetic butterfly, and carefully allows it to land on his finger. “Lucky you” he whispers to the unhindered creature, as it flies off. Soji (Isa Briones) visits Picard, using her own security clearance. Soji appeals to him to join her cause, but Picard begs her to stop. “Don’t let the Romulans turn you into the monsters they fear!” he urges her. He implores her to stop the beacon, which is under construction as they speak, using self-replication technology. Agnes, standing nearby, goes outside to see for herself as a great transmitting tower begins to build itself…ever higher, towards the sky.
At the crash site of La Sirena, Captain Rios (Santiago Cabrera) and Raffi (Michelle Hurd) are busy trying to repair the fused reactor of the ship using the android’s imagination tool, which is supposed to work by simply thinking of the repairs that need to be done, and allowing the device to carry them out. After a bit of trial and error, the intuitive gizmo works and La Sirena’s now un-fused main reactor comes to life! The ship has power now, and all of her vital systems work.
In his laboratory, the late Data’s biological brother Altan Inigo (get it? A.I?) Soong (Brent Spiner) is working with Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill) to ready the “Golem”; the Golem is a not-fully formed synthetic body, which has yet to receive a downloaded mind. Soong tells her that her sacrifice means she is the Synth’s “mother.” As Altan walks off, it’s clear that Agnes has different plans. She says sotto voce, “I’m not their mother, a$$hole.” Later on, Alton returns, and tries to transfer the dead android Saga’s memories into a fresh body (Saga was killed last week when she was impaled in the eye by her ’sister’ Sutra). Agnes butters him up by asking if he could work his ‘kung-fu’ and decode Maddox’s encrypted algorithms for the Golem android’s body. As he leaves yet again, Agnes removes the dead android Saga’s eye. She feels sympathy as she further mutilates the android’s corpse, muttering a heartfelt “Sorry.”
Outside the forward window of La Sirena, Raffi & Rios spot Narek. He threatens to hurl a can at them to get their attention. Rios threatens him with a photon torpedo if he tries it. Narek says he’s carrying a bag of grenades, but calls for a truce. Once aboard, Narek tells them the tale of “Ganmadan,” a Romulan legend of a Synthetic Armageddon… an ancient Romulan legend which Narek insists is factual.
While Narek tells his story, a stealthy Elnor arrives with his sword aimed right at Narek’s throat. Later around campfire, elnor says he doesn’t trust Narek. Narek tells fable of ganmadan. Apocalypse story. Crack in the sky, the ch’khalagu (synths) will come pouring in. Narek thinks it’s history, not myth. Meanwhile, out in space, the Romulan battle fleet led by Tal-Shiar operative Oh (Tamlyn Tomita) is preparing to leave the Borg transwarp conduit and attack the planet Coppelius…
La Sirena’s crew, plus Narek, hatch a plan. Raffi, Elnor and Rios will bring Narek into the Synth compound as a prisoner (that ol’ Chewbacca on the Death Star trick…works every time). Narek will blow up the beacon with single blast remotely detonated. Since his explosives can’t be contained in metals, Rios smuggles the explosives into the city within a freshly replicated black soccer ball, which can unfurl when needed. Meanwhile, Agnes uses Saga’s severed eye to enter Picard’s locked holding cell. Agnes tells an initially skeptical Picard that she is busting him out.
In his lab, Altan Soong breaks though the encrypted files of Saga’s memories, and learns she was killed by Narek and Sutra! Sutra killed her own sister to foment rebellion among her fellow Synths. Altan is deeply saddened to learn the truth about Sutra. He now realizes that the Synths are no different than the flawed humans who created them. Both are capable of murdering their own. The disillusioned scientist decides to join Rios, Raffi and Elnor’s team as they make their way to destroy the beacon, which is still under construction.
Picard and Agnes make their way to La Sirena, to find the craft operational, thanks to Raffi and Rios’ efforts. Picard settles into the captain’s chair, and asks Agnes to take the helm. Using the ship’s long-range sensors, she finds that the 218-strong Romulan attack wing is only seven minutes away. Picard must find way to slow them down when they arrive. He remembers Agnes mentioning that the Synths, despite their sophistication, are like children. Sadly, these children only had two human hermits for teachers (Soong and Maddox). No one has taught the Synths what life is for. “To be alive is a responsibility as well as a right,” Picard says, before he takes command of La Sirena. Slowly familiarizing himself with the ship’s complex holographic interfaces, he tries to see if he can remember Rios’ moves. After a few seconds, he succeeds, and the ship lifts off! While the 94-year old Picard is focused on flying his first starship in many years, Agnes worries about the approaching warbirds. They both have their hands full (where the hell are Rios’ holographic crew at this time, I wonder?).
Sutra (Isa Briones) addresses a gathered crowd of her fellow Synths. She tells them that when the beacon is operational, their “liberators” will be coming. Soji is aiding her ’sister’ by readying the beacon. Altan arrives and returns the bloodied murder weapon to Sutra (the one used to kill Saga). She can see in Soong’s eyes that he knows the truth of what she did to Saga. Soong whips out a stunning device and abruptly shuts her off. He looks at her limp form and says, “Turns out, you’re no better than we are.”
Soong then turns and signals Raffi, who whistles. Their plan to destroy the beacon begins. Rios jumps the gate to the compound. Elnor and Narek attack the Synths, with Elnor kicking some serious Synthetic butt. Rios’ explosive-filled soccer ball opens, ejects the grenade, but Soji catches it, and tosses it bionic-style into the air, where it detonates harmlessly. Work on the beacon continues, unimpeded, despite Narek’s desperate pleas. The plan failed.
Aboard the crashed Borg cube, Narissa detects La Sirena‘s launch. She is about to contact her brother when Seven walks in, phaser drawn. Seven tells Narissa to “step away from the console.” But Narissa fights back. Practicing a bit of psychological warfare, Narissa tries to get under Seven’s skin by reminding her of the Borg’s brutal assimilation of her when she was only six years old. The attempted psych-out has the reverse effect, and an angry, reenergized Seven kicks Narissa’s Romulan ass down a deep chasm within the ship: “This is for Hugh!”
The Romulan fleet arrives, exiting the transwarp conduit. Commodore/General Oh gives the order, “Sterilize the entire planet!”
The ‘Giant Space Orchids’ are launched to intercept the Romulan fleet. While not primarily offensive in nature, it is hoped the Orchids will provide a distraction to slow down the Romulan ships enough for the beacon to activate and open a channel to the super A.I. race. The Synths hope these AIs will act as saviors… permanently removing the threat of biological life. The Space Orchids, by their sheer numbers and confusion, provide temporary distraction for the warbird fleet, buying Picard vital minutes that he desperately needs…
Aboard La Sirena, with the odds very much against them, Agnes is short on ideas. Rummaging through her memories of Picard’s illustrious military career, she remembers reading about “the Picard maneuver.” It was a trick Picard once used while commanding the USS Stargazer, where he jumped to warp speed for a moment, briefly making his ship appear to be at two points simultaneously. Agnes suggests using La Sirena’s holographic emitters and deflector controls to project multiple images of itself to the Romulan fleet. Agnes does a quick proof of concept and appears to multiply her face right in front of Picard’s eyes. He’s convinced.
As Agnes gets to work, Picard secretly hails Soji on the planet’s surface, and offers his life in order for her to reconsider using the beacon. Soji refuses, and Picard experiences a sudden, debilitating shortness of breath.
Meanwhile, the last of the Giant Space Orchids are neutralized. Commodore/General Oh orders, “All ships. Target abomination nest!” With that order, the Romulans redirect their weapons to the surface…
Picard implements Agnes’ brilliant plan. Multiple La Sirenas suddenly appear to shoot out of warp, each with its own distinctive warp signature. The Romulans fall for the decoys and begin firing on multiple targets… once again, distracting them from firing upon the planet’s surface.
After much delay, and a bit of sudden regret on Soji’s face, the beacon is online. It then shoots a concentrated beam directly into space. As the holographic decoys begin to wear thin, a massive fleet of Federation starships arrive! Many massive, identical starships. Clearly Starfleet has been really busy cranking out ships since the loss of the Martian Utopia Planitia shipyards. On the bridge of the flagship, the USS Zheng He(named after the famed Chinese explorer/diplomat) William T. Riker (Jonathan Frakes) is back in uniform! As he later tells Picard, he couldn’t just stay on Nepenthe making homemade pizza while this was going on. He was immediately reinstated as acting captain of this new Starfleet flagship.
With the Starfleet ships an even match for the Romulans, Riker hails Romulan commander Oh, stating that the planet Coppelius is under the protection of the Federation, per terms of the Treaty of Algeron. Oh refuses to back down. Riker calls her bluff, stating that “nothing would make me happier than an excuse to kick your traitorous Tal Shiar ass.” It’s a tense stalemate…
Meanwhile, aboard La Sirena, Picard isn’t doing well at all. Agnes gives him a shot to keep him going, and with his time growing short, he hails the planet and begs Soji to power down the beacon. Finally getting through to the headstrong young android, he says, “I trust you Soji. I believe in you. Let’s save each other!” The amazing things Picard accomplishes entirely through the power of his words… he is exactly the kind of hero we need to see more of in current pop culture.
The beacon continues to open a tesseract-like portal above the planet; which will, in theory, allow hordes of almighty new Synths to come pouring out. Picard’s words reach her, and Soji destroys the beacon. The portal closes, just as a mechanical tendril-thingy crept out. Unable to break the Starfleet stalemate, the Romulans stand down. An ailing Picard thanks his former first officer personally, and bids “adieu” before collapsing. With no time to spare, Soji beams Picard directly to the colony’s infirmary. Near death, Picard summons the strength to tell Soji, “I gave you a choice. Not being the destroyer was up to you.” With his last seconds, he reaches out to Elnor, and to his other ’Number One’ Raffi. They are both in tears as Jean-Luc Picard succumbs to darkness…
The following morning we see Seven and Rios enjoying a drink together. Seven regrets being forced to kill yet again. Rios regrets ever letting another old captain into his heart. Elsewhere, Raffi and Elnor are in wordless tears, each consoling the other. Rios and Seven only knew Picard for a short while, but Raffi and Elnor knew him considerably longer…
Meanwhile, Picard inexplicably awakens in the study of his chateau. Somehow, his long dead friend Data is there as well. Picard wonders aloud if it’s a dream. Data, ever the logical android, corrects him, stating it is a “massively complex quantum simulation.” Picard says he dreams about Data all the time. Another thought occurs to Picard, and he asks the android, “Am I dead?” Data, without hesitation, answers in the affirmative. Picard says that he could feel the moment of his death… that it was “like a child’s sandcastle collapsing.” Data can’t remember the exact moment of his death; he has a perfect mental record of the seconds right before his death (as seen in 2002’s “Star Trek: Nemesis”), but he can’t recall the sensation of dying.
Data also tells Picard that he has ’no regrets’ giving his life for his former captain, just as Picard was willing to give his life for Data’s progeny. Smiling, Picard tells Data how good it is to see his “strange beautiful face.” The two express their love for each other. Mention of Data’s biological ‘brother’ Altan Soong, Picard candidly states “I don’t like him,” to which Data admits that the Soongs are “an acquired taste.” Acting as Beatrice to Picard’s Dante, Data reveals that Picard’s mind has been scanned and copied, just as Data’s memories and experiences were recreated by Bruce Maddox from a single positron recovered from Data’s android brother B-4 (also seen in “Nemesis”). B-4 received a complete download of his brother Data’s memories before he was disassembled, following the Synth ban. A door opens behind Picard, casting light within the purgatory of the darkened room, and Data tells Picard he has to leave. As Picard rises, Data asks if he’d do him a favor once he’s back; terminate his consciousness within this simulation. Tired of existing in this recovered limbo state, Data wants a finite, mortal existence; it’s the final step in his lifetime quest to be fully human. They say their goodbyes, and Picard exits…
Picard reawakens in Soong’s laboratory on Coppelius. His new body was the ‘golem’ that Altan Soong was working on when they arrived. Altan reassures Picard that his new body has no exceptional abilities, and is not immortal. He will live the remainder of a normal life span, but without his lethal brain disease. Picard can eat, drink (enjoying his Earl Grey) and indulge in any other human endeavor. It’s not too different from when he was given an artificial heart as a cadet, following a lethal stabbing from a knife-wielding Naussican (TNG, “Tapestry” “Samaritan Snare”). Picard’s new body is the ultimate in organ-replacement technology; yet his consciousness, everything that truly is Jean-Luc Picard, continues without interruption. As a lifelong advocate for the rights of artificial life forms, Picard experiences no evident trauma at being reborn in an artificial body. Then suddenly, Picard sits up and excuses himself, remembering that he has a promise to keep…
We see Data, still inside the simulation, with a snifter of brandy. Outside, in the real world, Picard carefully pulls TNG-style isolinear data rods from a hard drive. Within the simulation, Data’s ‘essence’ ages and gently blows away, like so much fine ash in a gentle breeze. We hear Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” playing. Commander Data is now truly gone…his limbo-status is finally given closure.
Aboard La Sirena life continues. Agnes and Rios, who’d once slept together, are now free to enjoy a passionate kiss (guess she’s not going to prison over that whole Maddox murder thing?). We also see Raffi and Seven holding hands over a game of Vulcan kal-tow, implying a budding relationship between the two survivors (Seven survived brutal assault by the Borg as a child, Raffi is a recovering substance abuser). Once again, “Blue Skies” plays…just as it had in the first episode. Picard, Elnor and Soji are all preparing to return. The ill-conceived Synth ban is officially lifted; Soji and Picard (he’s now technically a Synth as well) are now free to travel anywhere within the Federation.
Picard, standing behind Captain Rios, gives his signature order, “Engage!”
A New Lease On Life.
I remember reading many years ago that a good story should tell the most significant event in its protagonist’s life. This is usually one of the big problems with sequels; where do you go after you tell your hero’s greatest adventure? Well, Star Trek: Picard has not merely shown more of Picard’s story after the end of Star Trek: TNG. It has continued his growth…or rather, his evolution from one state of being to another. The final scenes of “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2” can be described as the single most important event in the life of Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart)… his ascension from biological being into fully synthetic being. He is still the same Jean-Luc Picard, but with that consciousness that has long-defined him now seated within an all-new artificial body. The ultimate in organ replacement.
No, new-Picard is not immortal (as a Soong-type android should be), but rather an artificial extension of the man he was. His mind, his thoughts and his very consciousness are all preserved. This is arguably the next logical step for a man who’s lived most of his 94 years with a fully artificial heart, and survived assimilation into the techno-zombie cult of the Borg Collective.
The biological Jean-Luc Picard we knew in TNG is dead. However, everything that he was lives on a new, yet mortal synthetic body; leaving behind only illness and other medical issues that plagued him in his previous existence. I assume his artificial heart, with its cumbersome valves (see: TNG’s “Samaritan Snare”) are a thing of the past as well. Picard’s new heart will be a wholly integrated part of his new self.
In a way, his consciousness reemerging in a new body is not too different from Spock’s return in “Star Trek III: The Search For Spock”, when Spock’s dead body was regenerated back into an infantile state, only to ‘regrow’ into the familiar 50-something visage of Leonard Nimoy, circa 1984. New-Picard is still very much Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard in every way that matters. Just as a person fitted with artificial limbs today is the exact same person as before. The consciousness survives, and at the end of the day, that is the true “measure of a man.”
Picard’s ascension to a new form wouldn’t have been possible had he not nurtured the aspirations of his android operations officer, Data (Brent Spiner). From the days when he passionately advocated for Data’s civil rights (TNG’s “The Measure of a Man” as well as Data’s right to be legally recognized as a father (TNG’s “The Offspring”, where we met Data’s first daughter, Lal). Even after Data’s death, Picard argued against the ban on synthetic life following the Mars attack of 2285. In hindsight, Picard’s tireless advocacy on behalf of artificial intelligence now feels like a foreshadowing of his own future… as if he was paving the way for his survival beyond the mortal coil. The episode also makes it clear that Picard wasn’t desiring or even envious of an android’s immortality. “A butterfly that lives forever isn’t a butterfly.’ If anything, it is repeatedly referenced in dialogue (for both Data and Picard) that a finite life is a truly precious thing…assured immortality is not. Picard merely hoped to see the end of his natural lifespan… a lifespan shortened by a disease that took him a few years too soon.
Now, with Picard as a pioneer, Star Trek has opened up a whole new ethical arena of artificial bodies. Bodies that can be replaced almost as easily as one can be fitted for a prosthetic leg today. This truly does go where Star Trek had only tepidly went before. In TOS’ “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” we meet a traditional ‘mad scientist’ named Roger Korby (Michael Strong) who attempted to download his frostbitten, dying body’s mind into an android body, using technology left behind behind by “the Old Ones” (a dead race killed off by their own machines…yet another chilling fulfillment of the Romulan’s prophecy). Korby’s attempt wasn’t entirely successful, as the conclusion of the episode makes it clear that he’d lost much of his innate humanity in the transfer from man to machine. In the 1960s, any attempts to download one’s ‘soul’ into a machine was generally vilified in sci-fi entertainment as sacrilege. In 2020, it’s more like progress.
TOS’ “I, Mudd” also had an android race from another galaxy who offered android-body immortality to Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) in exchange for her loyalty to her would-be android overlords. That plan was foiled when Kirk and his crew shorted out the too-literal android army simply by acting irrationally. But Uhura joked later on that she was half-tempted by the offer of living out a lifespan of 500,000 years of more, while never looking a day over 30. This clearly wasn’t an option for Jean-Luc, but one wonders if replacement bodies could be made to live for as long as the dying human wishes. Korby’s methods were downright crude compared to the works of Soong and Bruce Maddox, but perhaps that ‘mad scientist’ of the 23rd century had the right idea, if not the proper means. There is, of course, something else to consider. What if, in Star Trek’s future, artificial bodies become more commonplace for persons facing terminal diagnoses? Would it be unethical (or even illegal) for a dying patient to request a body with an indefinite lifespan? If so, then who would set the limits on lifespans for these new bodies? The patient, the engineers, the doctors, or perhaps the government? Who would make that final call? Who gets to say that enough life is enough? If one android body wears out (naturally or not), could a patient simply request another? These would be fascinating questions to explore in a future episode of “Star Trek: Picard.”
The ending of the episode once again features the song “Blue Skies” (written by “Irving Berlin”…as Worf might grumble). According to ye olde internets, Isa Briones (Soji/Dhaj/Sutra herself–er, her selves) sings the version we hear in the finale. It’s only fitting, since her ‘father’ Data (Brent Spiner) sang it years before at the Rikers’ wedding in “Star Trek: Nemesis” (2002). We also hear it during Picard’s dream at the very beginning of Star Trek: Picard (“Remembrance”). Now it closes this very significant chapter in the life of Jean-Luc Picard, arguably his most important. The tireless advocate for synthetic life forms transcends into a synthetic existence himself. Once again, as we saw in “Nemesis”, Picard’s friendship with the android Data saves his life. “Blue Skies” is a song of hope and optimism, both of which the finale of Picard brings back to the Star Trek universe at a time when we really need them.
Here’s to blue skies ahead…for all of us.
Wil Wheaton’s Ready Room, E10.
Sir Patrick Stewart and Alison Pill are interviewed for this final Ready Room episode of the season. Enjoy!
Live Long and Stay Healthy.
“Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2″ closes out Picard’s first season. Star Trek: Discovery will be returning soon, though I’m not certain whether the current coronavirus pandemic will affect release dates of the final few episodes of the new season. The good news in this grim, uncertain time is that Star Trek allows us to voyage far into an imaginary cosmos with our beloved fictional space families, even when we’re earthbound in isolation from each other. Most of the Star Trek canon (around 800 hours of TV shows & movies) is available in DVD, BluRay or streaming formats (CBSAA, AmazonPrime, Netflix), so fire up your various media players and make it so! Even without newly produced content, there is still a vast library of Star Trek to explore at our fingertips.
Once again, I wish all of my readers safety and good health. I also wish the same for your families and loved ones in this unprecedented time. Be cautious, use good judgment, practice safety protocols, be mindful of your own risk to others, and enjoy a little (or a LOT of) escapism with Star Trek. Engage!
Images: CBS All-Access/Trekcore.com